CHAMPLAIN — The future of primary care for residents of the Northern Tier looks bright as a regional health-care network hooks up with long-time primary-care physician Dr. Maurice Racine at Champlain Health Center.
Hudson Headwaters Health Network, which operates 14 community health centers across northeastern New York state, has recently established an affiliation with Champlain Health Center on Route 11 between the villages of Rouses Point and Champlain.
The agreement will help the practice expand and provide added services for people across northern Clinton County, officials say.
“This is the future of health care,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, commissioner of the New York State Department of Health, who was in Champlain Monday to celebrate the collaboration between Champlain Health Center and Hudson Headwaters.
“This (affiliation) is a promise to the people of this community that there will be quality health care in their backyards for the foreseeable future.”
Racine has been working with two nurse practitioners and a physician’s assistant over the past several years with a current patient load of between 5,000 and 6,000 patients. With support from Hudson Headwaters, he sees the potential for upcoming expansion.
“This will allow for continuity,” he said of the potential to hire new physicians at the practice. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to ensure that primary care continues to be offered for people of the North Country.
“We will still have the feel of a private clinic, but we will also have the support to provide more services.”
One of the major components of the relationship is the expanded connection between Champlain Health Center and the two largest hospitals in the region, CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh and Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.
“Fletcher Allen is pleased to be working with (Hudson Headwaters and Champlain Health Center),” said Diana Scalise, vice president of planning and strategy for Fletcher Allen. “We will do whatever we can to support access to health care in the North Country.”
She also noted the potential for developing a teaching center in Champlain with the future expansion of the Health Center.
“We all know there is a shortage of primary-care physicians,” said Dr. William O’Dwyer, a pediatrician from the Albany area who served as chair on the Hudson Headwaters Board of Directors. “About 2 percent of today’s medical students are going into primary care. If that continues, we won’t have any (primary-care) providers.”
Opportunities such as a teaching center in Champlain would help future physicians see the potential in practicing in rural settings, he added.
John Rugge, chief executive officer at Hudson Headwaters, praised the community effort that helped moved the affiliation forward and said he expects the facility to expand in the next few years.
“Dr. Racine will continue his full-time practice over the next several years, but we will also be adding to the staff and expanding the facility,” he said.
He projected the practice load to rise from about 10,000 to 25,000 visits per year with an expanded staff, including at least one new full-time physician.
Hudson Headwaters will also be looking to construct a new, larger clinic within the next few years, though any action toward that goal has not yet begun.
VITAL TO COMMUNITY
Stephens Mundy, president and chief executive officer at CVPH Medical Center, recognized Racine for his “drive to move this practice forward and make it what it is,” and said he believed Racine and his staff will continue to be important components of the Health Center’s growth.
Town of Champlain Supervisor Larry Barcomb called the Health Center a vital part of the community and said future expansion would help more people access local health care without having to travel to Plattsburgh or beyond.
New York State Assemblywoman Theresa Sayward called the affiliation “exciting for the community.”
She praised Hudson Headwaters for bringing health care to rural communities across the region, communities that would not have access to it otherwise.
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey also applauded Hudson Headwaters for helping to ensure that primary care remains a part of the Northern Tier, and New York State Sen, Betty Little praised Rugge for his expertise in making sure that primary care remains stable in rural communities across the region.
Racine recognized his entire staff for the hard work put in over the past several years in seeking an affiliation with Hudson Headwaters.
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